Fixing An NES For Good

Sometime in the late 80s, the vast collective consciousness of 8-year-olds discovered a Nintendo Entertainment System could be fixed merely by blowing on the cartridge connector. No one knows how this was independently discovered, no one knows the original discoverer, but one fact remains true: dirty pins probably weren’t the problem.

The problem with a NES that just won’t read a cartridge is the ZIF socket inside the console. Pins get bent, and that spring-loaded, VCR-like front loader assembly is the main point of failure of these consoles, even 30 years later. You can get replacement ZIF sockets for a few bucks, and replace the old one using only a screwdriver, but this only delays the inevitable. That ZIF socket will fail again a few years down the line. Finally, there is a solution.

The Blinking Light Win, as this project is called, replaces the ZIF connector with two card-edge slots. One slot connects to the NES main board, the other to the cartridge connector. There’s a plastic adapter that replaces the spring-loaded push down mechanism created for the original ZIF connector, and installation is exactly as easy as installing a reproduction NES ZIF connector.

If you’re wondering why consoles like the SNES, Genesis, and even the top-loader NES never had problems that required blowing into the cartridge connector, it’s because the mere insertion of the cartridge into the slot performed a scrubbing action against the pins. Since the ZIF socket in the O.G. NES didn’t have this, it was prone to failure. Replacing the ZIF with a true card-edge slot does away with all the problems of dirty contacts, and now turns the NES into something that’s at least as reliable as other cartridge-based consoles.

52 thoughts on “Fixing An NES For Good

    1. Yeah, I had the same reaction because I was thinking it was some awesome story about how someone wanted to fix a NES. Sadly, Kickstarter. Can we start getting funding campaign warnings like we get PDF warnings?

    2. I revived an NES by clipping pin 4 of the CIC chip a few years ago, and thought thats where this article was going. Not sure if it’s related to the ZIF connector though, this new cartridge slot aims to fix a slightly different (but sometimes overlapping) issue. It was surprising that the 10NES trick works, but perhaps even more surprising was how easy it was to bypass oldschool DRM. Just goes to show, DRM has been on the losing side for decades.

      1. The 10NES pin cut trick only fixes the symptom of the problem. If the NES “lock” chip, doesn’t get a signal from the cart’s “key” chip, then the NES resets continually. Cutting that pin on the CIC chip turns it in to a “key” and no longer resets. All this does in relation to the blinking problem is not reset the NES if the chips cant talk. If the rest of the signal lines from the NES to the cart have issues, you will still see the games not loading. A proper card-edge connector that works properly will fix the root issue, and then no need to cut that pin.

      2. 10NES was to make it harder for unauthorised cartridge manufacturers to release games. Most people wouldn’t want to crack open their expensive NES and fiddle around inside snipping pins on the CIC. The unauthorised game solution was usually to build ever more elaborate glitching circuitry in an attempt to lockup the CIC uC inside the NES so it wouldn’t reset the console.

        10NES and all the other cartridge lockout chips wasn’t designed to be hard to circumvent from the end user POV so it isn’t that surprising you were able to bypass it so easily.

      3. Rather than just clipping it, I desoldered and lifted it from the board and then soldered it to ground. Clipping it /works/, but anything to break out the soldering iron is win too!

  1. The big concerns I would have are that the original ZIF socket did minimal wear the the cart contacts, whereas a standard card edge connector wears the contacts pretty hard, and that removal of a cart may be more difficult than with the ZIF, and a cart that spends too much time in the machine may have the contacts corrode or weld in, leading to more damage on removal.

    I missed the original NES, but these were major faults with Vectrex.

      1. The top loader NES was sadly RF only for A/V output, making the quality significantly lower than the original toaster unit which had RF and RCA A/V outs. The famicom top loader however, used the same A/V multi-out connector as the SNES, N64, and GameCube and was a heck of a machine.

        1. The point being, Nintendo’s official top-loader NES used a cart-edge connector instead of a ZIF socket. One would hope the company had put in the requisite testing effort to ensure that the switch to cart-edge doesn’t damage games (or they’d have a major customer complaint headache!)

  2. I’d rather do this : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnxZIuYb9WU

    Boil the connector!

    I have many NES systems that I have been given over time. In one of them I installed a edge cartard of the nes, then dremeled a hole on top. The only cart that never booted with this setup is the original Final Fantasy. I also bypassed the crystal and installed a socket with a toggle switch so I could use other crystals and change the speed of the NES.

      1. notdave, I love how you’ve pointed out to the couple of people who suggested emulation, that they suggested a non-NES emulator. I truly mean that and am not being sarcastic in any way, made my morning. :D

        1. He’s dedicated, that’s for sure. I have a feeling if a third person suggests a non-NES emulator, there’s a good chance a troll is among us. Also, the sky is blue and water is wet.

      2. Actually I believe MAME 0.162 and newer have the sister project MESS merged in. MESS was made for emulating computers and consoles while MAME was made for emulating arcade machines. As of 0.162 the two projects merged.

    1. I DON’T SEE WHY NOT, I MEAN, YEAH, ITS A PRODUCT AND A LITTLE OVERPRICED. HOWEVER IT IS STILL A HACK TO AN EXISTING PRODUCT. JUST A WELL DONE ONE THAT HAS MARKETABILITY, HOWEVER SMALL THE MARKET MAY BE.

    1. Only reason this is a better fit on HaD is because its a serious, seriously ugly hack. Use a real card-edge connector, no reason to re-re-invent the wheel. That being said, the loading mechanism itself is very well done and probably wouldn’t be possible without the hacked connector. Also, I feel like I just watched a 45min ad for Element 14.

        1. Never looked, but, the people in the kickstarter campaign above seemed to have sourced some. Either that or its an extreme hack using the wrong pitch, and therefore has “more of a right” to be on HaD.

  3. My 7 y/o self realized blowing on the cartridge was more of a rain dance than an actual fix. What I ended up doing was not quite fully inserting the cartridge into the system and then pressing it down as usual. The outer edge of the game cartridge would clip against the front of the slot and make a “crunch” sound. I think doing that slightly changed the angle at which the cartridge pins made contact with the ZIF connector. I just know it worked for me.

    1. ZIF == Zero Insertion Force. Any kind of connector that does not require force to seat the connection. Usually activated by a lever or some mechanism to clamp on the connectors. The NES is a ZIF for the “gold fingers” connector present in NES carts.

    1. How is it not a hack? It just happens to be a hack that can be mass produced and sold. If you want to do it yourself the pictures shown in the video have enough info to re-create it.

    1. We used to shove a paperback book into the gap between the lowered cart and the top of the NES. My little sister’s Boxcar Children series had a few titles that were a perfect fit.

  4. “No one knows how this was independently discovered…”; it was ‘discovered’ from older kids who had Ataris, where the problem really was dirty connectors. I used to prefer wiping dust from my Atari 2600 connectors with my greasy, ESD-laden finger-tips. Incidentally, out of hundreds of games and an entire decade I never once killed a game through this practice.

  5. A huge part of why NES games are so “hard” to get working for lots of people is because years of idiots blowing in them has made them incredibly corroded/filthy. Even q-tips and alcohol won’t take care of most of them and you need to get in there with some brasso before ever sticking a used game in your NES and transferring some of that filth to the connector inside.

    This thing is by a guy with a very good reputation in the retro game community for making inexpensive, solid products free of gimmicky bullshit. The hate here is really weird.

    1. There was a cleaning kit I had for about 10$. It fixed the problem no blowing as a kid here just a few drops on the cleaning stick, clean the cartridge, then clean the deck. Good as new.

      1. I always told NES owners to get one of those cleaning cartridges with the pad that could be slid in and out of the connector after the cleaner was latched down like a game.

        The cleaner cartridges worked, but no NES owner I ever told to get one ever bought one. They would complain about the $10 or so cost of the cleaner, while blowing spit into their $40 games.

  6. I got my first NES as a kid thanks to that problem. My buddy got a new for Christmas and we got to take the old one home. No cart would work so my dad helped me take it apart and showed me how to lift the pins with a tiny screwdriver.

  7. You’re either liking the project or not. If you’re fine fidgeting with your cart for several minutes; shoving other carts, books, LEGO blocks, or a Ford tire, by all means, enjoy. If you like spending your money on getting cheaper connectors and swapping them every time they (eventually) fail, that’s all you.

    If you wanna end the madness of all that crap, support this KS. At least read (!!) the project description before snapping judgement.

  8. The problem is really about the dirty contacts on the cartridges.. Electrical contact cleaner + cotton bud = removal of dirt! Got three hundred working news carts and never opened my console.. :)

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